Mythcon 45: Day 1

The bad news: I’m spoiled.

Last year’s Mythcon–my first time attending the annual meeting of the Mythopoeic Society, dedicated to the works of J.R.R.Tolkien, his literary contemporaries (commonly known as the Inklings), and the creation of myth and mythic storytelling in general–took place on the campus of Michigan State University, where an entire hotel and conference center was devoted to our needs. This year we’re at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and it’s everything you would expect from an old, traditional New England school: lovely quadrangle ringed with stately trees and Georgian architecture…and dorm rooms with spartan decor and shared bathroom facilities. Not to mention food that’s just passable, compared to last year’s multi-cuisine feasts!

But we’re not here for the meals. As before, there’s a surfeit of thought-provoking riches in the various simultaneous presentations, and choosing which one to attend can lead to some maddening choices. I start with Chip Crane’s analysis of Tolkien’s careful use of ambiguity in his prose style (scribbling notes madly as I get ideas for my own writing); followed by an examination of the Hugo Award-winning graphic novel Digger (note to self: get hold of this and read it); and then Elise McKenna’s passionate linkage of Tolkien’s ideas to those of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Many (most?) current folklorists find Campbell’s approach, especially his monomyth, very problematic, and while I find some of his ideas interesting, I share the folklore community’s qualms…but it was hard to resist McKenna for her sheer exuberance and dynamic presentation style!

Then came my big blunder: Exhausted from overnight travel and craving outdoor time on a spectacular August day in such a lovely locale, I skipped Michael Drout’s overview of the hot topic around here, Tolkien’s newly published translation of Beowulf. By all accounts (and I mean all), it was the highlight of the day and packed to the rafters.

The many overlapping and fascinating conversations over meals and social gatherings, which are so much of Mythcon, can’t be summarized. But I finished my night, tired as I was, with a few rounds of Bardic Circle, the sharing of story and/or song that’s one of the best things about Mythcon, IMHO. And luckily, I’ve got two more nights of that…hopefully when I’m less bushed!

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